Were I to have made a list of reasons I chose Dartmouth over other comparably reputable institutions my senior year of high school, the D-plan would fall somewhere between “Dr. Seuss” and “high likelihood of moose-sighting.” It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with the term system so much as I simply lacked the foresight and imagination to realize the manifold possibilities it allows. I have been living and teaching at a middle school in Beijing since mid-December as a Tucker Fellow, the specifics of which I will elaborate upon later. My school has been closed for a month to celebrate the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, allowing me a month to travel around the People’s Republic all by my lonesome. I think it’s important I take a moment here to detail the extent of my pre-voyage Mandarin lest I give you the wrong impression; I arrived in China equipped with the syntax of a small child, tonal subtlety of an incoming fax, and a vocabulary that could be recited in its entirety on one moderately full breath; to say my Chinese was poor would be doing a disservice to the word poor. Were the first few weeks communicatively trying? Yeah. Did I get myself into some sticky situations? Sure. Did I through a series of increasingly unfortunate misunderstandings purchase a pregnant goat? Well it’s probably best we don’t get into specifics here, but the point being I was not, by any definition of the word, particularly qualified. Yet here I am nonetheless, in the midst of what I am slowly realizing to be the most cathartic experience of my life all because of a term system I failed to give a second thought to three years ago.
I am now in the final leg of my journey around China, a counterclockwise rotation through Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and now finally Guangzhou. While I wasn’t able to spend as much time in Shanghai as I would have liked, the week I did spend there was more than enough to realize it as the most international city I’ve encountered thus far in the People’s Republic (I unfortunately wasn’t able to make it to Hong Kong, the only other potential contender, due to a visa situation). I celebrated my first Chinese New Year in Shenzhen with a Dartmouth friend, who is spending her term in southern China making a documentary, and her family, who introduced me to pig feet (surprisingly sweet), chicken feet (good but look sort of like baby hands), and rabbit heads (a fair amount of work, but definitely my favorite). The warm weather and general air quality in Shenzhen were a nice break from Beijing’s lack thereof. We even made it down to the South China Sea for what would have been an absolutely perfect beach excursion had it not been for a speedo (which they should really let you try on before purchasing if they’re going to enforce a no refund policy) imbroglio that I don’t feel particularly compelled to elaborate upon any further. I have spent this final week of my month-long wandering at the Lazy Gaga (sic) Hostel in an unseasonably cold and rainy Guangzhou, the largest city in southern China. A few nights ago I went out with a group of friends I met at the Lazy Gaga (sic) Hostel to explore Guangzhou nightlife, none of us knowing that taxis shut down fairly early here. So after an altogether weird night I got to persuade a truck driver to let the bunch of us hitchhike in the back of his truck, which we soon thereafter discovered was full of, much to the chagrin of the more squeamish in our group, mutilated pigs. But hey, at least my Chinese is improving.